October 29th, 2007


Okaeri, Plastics!

In the Liquid Rooms in Tokyo tonight a historic reunion will take place: the Cornelius Group will be supported by a reformed version of cult New Wave band The Plastics. To refresh your memory, or to introduce you to The Plastics, here they are on NHK in 1980 performing "Copy":

It's not hard to see who The Plastics were copying musically: bands like The B52s, Talking Heads, Devo and The Rezillos inform their sound. Here they are that same year performing "Top Secret Man" (although the New York live version, filmed a year later, is better).

From the look of the sketch of the reformed Plastics on the Liquid Room website, though, a crucial element will be missing from the Plastics line-up supporting Cornelius tonight: the central figure of the band's elegant and oshare female vocalist, Chica Sato.

Sato was working as a stylist in the late 70s when she ran into Hajime Tachibana (now a successful designer) and Toshio Nakanishi (later her husband, father of her daughter, and her partner in the mid-80s band Melon). To say Sato was chosen for her visual as much as her musical qualities would be to ignore the fact that everybody in Plastics was oriented in pretty much the same direction: these were stylists, illustrators and designers who, for a couple of years, were in a fashionable New Wave band. A band that became, some say, the template for the Shibuya-kei acts of the 90s.

Maki Nomiya of Pizzicato 5, for instance, acknowledges the debt and the inspiration. "Probably young people wouldn't know this legendary band The Plastics," she says on her blog. "But when YMO and those technopop bands came out the most cool and fashionable band was Plastics and I was influenced so much by Plastics. I could even say that because I met Plastics I started to sing. Especially this vocalist Sato Chica-Chan was my idol. They were really the predecessors of Pizzicato 5."

So why isn't Chica Sato onstage with her old band tonight? Probably because she lives in London now. The handsome and provocative singer who once went bare-breasted on a Melon album sleeve now has grey hair. She does her own clothes line. I know this because last week I bought a pair of leggings she designed.

I got them for Hisae's birthday. It happened by accident: I ate lunch with a friend in a new Japanese restaurant called Life on Old Street. At the end of the meal I went downstairs to the loo, and in the basement discovered a curious Japanese goods store run by a prim and dapper gay man. I picked out the angular New Wave-patterned leggings (they also had a trad Japanese feel, like a kimono; the pattern was also available on headscarves), and as the man wrapped them up he mentioned that they were designed by a lady who used to be the singer in The Plastics.

Above you can see Hisae wearing them (while reading Midori Matsui's survey of Japanese art). Some may claim that the original spirit of The Plastics will be there on stage at Tokyo's Liquid Rooms tonight, but I'd say -- and I suspect Maki Nomiya would agree -- that an important part of it is right here on Hisae's legs.